The Psychology of Spirituality Part I

This is a topic that I have spent many hours thinking about in a very candid way. I have written about this exhaustively on my prior blogs and in my coming book. I think it is an essential but also slippery topic. It is hard to grasp without it squirting between your fingers and then you loosing track of it.

I will start with my premise. The very essence of most human behavior and introspection is the desire for self-worth (in my book I call it the “Economics of Self-Worth”). It is at our core. I can be theological about this and to say that this is the way God has created us . . . but that is not quite right. I believe that God created us all, with this longing totally satisfied. But that satisfaction has been lost in the fall of Adam. Now we are left longing for this sense of self-worth with a deep desperation.

God has solved this problem once and for all, in the creative act (we have tremendous value because we were created by God) and in the act of Christ on the cross (all of our moral failures have been erased forever). However, we never quite grasp that either . . . none of us.

So far, what I have said is consistent with what most Christian people believe. However, I will now diverge into the area that most Christian people will not fully agree with and that is in this area where psychology intersects with the idea of spirituality.

I was a hard-core evangelical for seventeen years, so what I am about to say I say with great confidence. We believed that once we became a Christian, that we immediately changed in tremendous ways and it was a supernatural change. We also believed that we would go on to change much more drastically over time through a process of maturation or “sanctification.” This process—so we believed—can be enhanced through certain rituals such as going to church, studying the Bible and prayer.

Here is where I piss off a lot of Christians by saying that no change comes in an instant (at least not a supernatural change), and the real change, which comes over time, is only a slight course correction through a very slow process. The reason it is slow and minor is that the human persona is housed in the material brain and the brain changes very, very slowly if at all.

So, if we believe that we change tremendously from our previous life as a non-Christian, but in reality, we do not, then we have to fake the exterior to look like we are different. The real—inside—change is only slight. In the end, the real us is really not much different than the non-Christian. Some of the non-Christians, who started off—through genetics and life experiences—much better than us, well, they may be much better morally than we are in the end. A simplistic example is where a serious kleptomaniac, who then becomes a Christian, may be more likely to steal than the non-Christian who never had those tendencies.

Sure, we can go through social change, just like any person joining any subculture . . . but the character, the tendency to do good versus bad, is really not that much different.  The social change includes things like smiling a lot, saying sweet things (nothing negative) and using a lot of God talk.

Don was a unique man that I roomed with for a few years while I was in graduate school. While he looked like any typical southern white boy, he was born and grew up in the remote bush of Africa. His parents were missionaries there. He would often say things that were so frank that people in our parachurch group would be offended.

We were once attending a weekend spiritual conference sponsored by our group. One workshop was “Determining God’s Will for Your Life.” After an intensive day of note-taking, we had a very complex technique worked out for always knowing God’s perfect will for every decision that we made.

Don just snickered. He commented, “So, what we were just taught was how to create an intricate story to explain how the thing that we always wanted to do—for selfish reasons of course—was really God’s idea.”

He went on to explain, to be more graphic, that if he saw a beautiful girl he would like to have a lot of sex with, we could spend months creating a narrative of how God had magically called her to be his wife. The narrative would be filled with all kinds of signs such as, “we both like [certain Christian singer/artist] and we each had the same life verse, we bumped into each other at the library twice in a week.” This process of spiritualization was totally new to his brand of Christianity.

Don would have said, “God gave me this desire to have sex with women I find beautiful.  It doesn’t matter which one, so that’s all the information that I need.”

He was not liked a lot, especially when he asked four different women in our ministry to marry him in a matter of a few months. He didn’t try to convince them that God had called them to marry him in some magically and super spiritual way, but that he thought they were beautiful and he would like to have them in his bed every night. He would say that God would bless the marriage if they would allow it, no matter what their motivation was in the beginning.

So how do I connect all of these dots? Christian spiritually is a game. The early (first century) Gnostics believed that God had created some people special and above all other people. By the luck of the draw (wink, wink) they happened to be the ones that God had picked to be special. Therefore, they looked down their noses at all other—non-Gnostic—Christians and way down their noses at their non-Christian associates.

So, really, all of us want very much to be loved by others and by God . . . yet, none of us feel loved. This lies on a spectrum. I would say even the narcissistic people don’t feel adequately loved. Therefore, most of what we do is towards that goal of feeling loved. It shouldn’t be that way if we truly understood the Gospel.

So, behind the scenes (the personas behind the curtain operating the puppets in the front) we are all desperate to be valued and love. All of us build up this idea, like the Gnostics, that we are more spiritual, more moral and more valued by God than others. We get this feeling because we believe we go to the right church, believe the right things and have higher thoughts than others.

When I come along and say, “Sorry, we are all self-absorbed and evil, but, the good news, covered by the cross” it can make people angry. Well, they don’t so angry if I saw it in those exact words, but if I say it in more practical terms, now that pisses them off. I also feel angered when others imply that I have faults. I am too desperate to feel loved and valued and most of the time, just like everyone else on the inside, I do not capture that feeling. All hurt feelings, all church splits, all wars, all racism and all hatred is tied up in this perpetual process of us trying to find personal value and others doing something to contradict that hope. Hold that thought until I come back. If you are starting to feel uneasy with these thoughts, such as not giving God credit for supernaturally changing us . . . then please come back and hear me out to the end.

Mike

 

 

 

To Air the Dirty Laundry

We each have our personality quirks. Sometimes we might say that “I love myself just the way I am.” While that may be a product of 1980s popular psychology, there is one place for it. The one, proper place is to help counter-balance the attitude of self-hatred.

I do believe that we are who we are based on genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture). Because we live in a fallen world, we too are not right . . . none of us. The one thing that evangelicalism and pantheism share in common (and I say this as an ex-evangelical) is that they often believe that the way we are is exactly how God (or the Universe with a capital “U” as the pantheist would say) intended us to be. I disagree. We are an amalgamation of the good, the great, the not-so-good and the horrible

One bad trait of mine that I would like to change is this horrible combination of being a risk-taker and a sufferer from severe anxiety. I could give many examples of that but I will pare it down to one specific area. That area is the fact I have social anxiety and, yet, I speak very candidly.  My standard for what I will say is not “will it make me look good” but simply “is it true.”dirty laundry

One book, which I loved dearly, is Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.  I bought the book on an m3p format and listened to it on a mountaineering expedition. That experience was a microcosm of my problem. I really, really wanted to do it . . . but was scared shitless. Listening to the book was a good distraction while I stepped over and sometimes jumping over 200-foot-deep crevasses.

The author tells a fascinating story and I can’t remember if I read this in the book or I heard the author, Daniel Smith, say this during his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It is a story that I related to well. He was working for a magazine publishing company (The New Yorker I think).  He was a proof-reader, which was relatively safe for him. Then he was challenged to be a reporter and write a story, which he did.

His story went out with the journal to a few million people. He got some compliments from his colleagues. Then the hate mail started to arrive. He was ill-prepared for such an onslaught upon his persona. It was a terrifying experience that made him want to hold up in his apartment forever.

In a couple of months, I have a book coming out. It is an important book. It took me ten years to write it and I had a lot of help. Parts of the book are very candid. I tell stories that are absolutely true, but will invite a huge amount of criticism. I take criticism very hard and that is the social anxiety of my persona.

My wife, who does not suffer from any type of anxiety, is appalled how vulnerable I am when I write or talk to people. She says she could never do that. I say things that reveal personal weaknesses that are chinks in my armor. These chinks are irresistible to those who like to shoot flaming arrows at anything that doesn’t support their own narrative.

When I was an evangelical, both with a parachurch organization and working with churches, it was a golden rule that we never talked about or revealed the weakness of our perspective groups. As an elder, I had privy to much awfulness within our churches, but that bad stuff was top-secret. In other words, we had to give the façade that we were perfect.

I remember being scolded in graduate school that I was “airing dirty laundry” when I explained to someone (who had asked why a certain campus ministry closed) that it was because the Christian staff left his wife and ran off with a young coed. I didn’t mean to spread rumors. We all knew it was true, but we were not supposed to talk about it. We were supposed to say that it was God’s will that the ministry closed and leave it at that.

So in my book, I tell some ugly but 100% true stories. I don’t do this to create drama or sensationalize my personal history. I tell these stories to illustrate what is wrong with some of the ways that we think. It is story-telling with a serious purpose.

I suspect that I will reap tremendous criticism, especially from my old evangelical friends. They will be mad as hell that I talk about some really ugly things that have happened within church life, including the life that we shared. There is a code of silence among evangelicals in the same way that some Catholic circles had a code of silence around the habitual molestation of children by priests. These old friends will hate me for breaking that code.

But when you cloak the bad with a pretense of the divine, the badness sits and rots. It is good to air the dirty laundry so there is hope of bringing redemption. Now, if only I can bear the consequences.

 

 

The Real Centaur

This week, and it may have gone unnoticed by many, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) lifted its band on putting human genes into animals. The background story can be read here.

In this brief (as I am headed to work) post, I will only be raising some questions, not giving any answers.Brooklyn_Museum_-_Centauress_-_John_La_Farge_-_overall

In my old evangelical mindset, I would have quickly condemned this step as just one more move away from the Christian concept of the dignity of man (meaning mankind of course) and towards total depravity.

Now–to me at least–the morality of this decision is not so straightforward.  My evangelical friends would say (and sometimes they literally say this to me) that my wavering is yet another sign that I have become a “liberal humanist.” But I believe it is because I now think and not just follow the mores of the brand with my brain on autopilot.

First, we must establish the real guiding principles of true Christianity and I will create a list, but it is not an exhaustive one.

God is there

God created all things that we see

There is a vast difference between God and creation

God created humans as being in His image, thus there is also a chasm between humans and creation

The world is not the way that God intended. It is broken. The brokenness allows for  suffering, disease, death and moral depravity

God is in the business of redeeming all of Creation

Christ redeemed us from the consequences of sin

We have been enlisted by God to co-labor in this business of bringing redemption to all of Creation

So, of course, you could add many more items to that list, but that is the basics that I can come up with on a tired, Friday morning.

Previously I would have looked at the issue from the dignity of man perspective. It is true that human life is precious and sacred. To mess with human life is a dangerous thing. Hurting human life is sin. To mix human genes with animal genes would most likely be an offense against the separation between man and humanity . . . or would it? We have been mixing genes between other organisms for . . . well, for thousands of years if you count intentional interbreeding such as the mule. For that matter, homo sapiens and the neanderthal are a mixed species.

On the other side of the equation is the work of bringing redemption to a broken world. If I had a child who had a serious heart deformity and the only hope was a heart transplant and the only available heart was a humanized heart in the chest of a sheep, as a human being who lives his child, I would say yes. Sacrifice the sheep and give my child life.

I do believe that most of the scientists who are considering this idea are doing it for altruistic reasons, of bringing hope and comfort to others. But I will not be naive, any time there are corporations involve in a process, there are opportunities for greed and a careless attitude towards ethics.

My old evangelical mind would say no, I would not put a humanized sheep’s heart in my child (maybe towards the end I would cave). That if my child dies, it was God’s will. But was it? Doesn’t God constantly give us choices to save or end life (meaning the choice is real, not that it doesn’t matter ethically).

So this is the real dilemma that true thinkers must wrestle with. Is, putting human genes in animals, part of the process of bringing redemption to a broken world in the same way that oncologists are doing God’s work by fighting cancer? Or, would this process show disrespect to human dignity?

To make this question even more difficult, it is possible that you could put human stem cells in a pig embryo and then that adult male pig produces pure human semen. Therefore it would theoretical possible that pig could breed with a human female, producing a fully human child who’s father is literally a pig.

It is also possible that those stem cells would migrate into the part of the embryo that is forming the central nervous system. That animal, say a sheep, could then be born with a brain that is partially sheep in nature, but with many human characteristics, including higher (higher than a normal sheep) reason and even language. Can you imagine taking a sheep to the butcher who plead with you the whole way, verbally, not to do it?

It is laziness to default to the brand position on these tough questions. It is hard to do the work of thinking. But we must think and act, to do our best to follow God’s perfect will and that will is often obscured.

Mike

 

When Narcissus Became a Christian

I must start this story with a premise. I discuss how I got to this premise in my book, but I will allude to it here but only from a distance. It is simply, as Christians, we are mostly who we were before we were Christians. Now, however, we camouflage who we really are with Christian epitomes of persona. Does that make sense? In other words, I think we retain much of our flaws after we become Christians, but through a process of socialization, we cover the not-so-good intentions with a spiritual window dressing.

The Gospel is of course, transformative. We do get better, if we allow God’s process to work in us. However, what most of modern Christianity has neglected, is that the material really matters. God created us in this material world as physical beings. Our brains are plagued with real flaws from the Fall of Adam. Some of those flaws are genetic. Some are from early, childhood experiences and some are the results of our own mistakes (a softer word, perhaps, for ‘sin’).

American evangelicalism, at least, promotes the idea of instant transformation at the point someone embraces the Christian faith. There are scriptures (and I will not get bogged down at this point discussing those) that they base this idea on, but I believe they get the hermeneutics  wrong. They also believe in a process of sanctification or growing in godliness that can be enhanced by studying the Bible, meeting with other Christians, prayer and by the magical working of the Holy Spirit. So, within our Christian social circles, there is a tremendous pressure to project this “better self.” According to that paradigm, the only thing that stops us from becoming a new and nearly perfect person is continuing sin. So we have a great incentive to fake the fruits of the spirit, otherwise, it would indicate that we are still deeply entangled in personal sin.

If our flaws are physical (brain), then reformation of our selves can happen, but at a snails’ pace. I know that after 40 years of hard discipleship, my nature is just a few millimeters different from where I started. This should not trouble anyone, because the gospel is about grace and forgiveness not making us perfect.

With that said, I will leap to my next thought, which is connected. I am thinking a lot about politics these days. I try not to post about things here or places like Facebook. It is very tempting. I will reveal my hand right now and say that I am neither a Democrat nor Republican. I am disgusted with both. So I am not here at all to say one candidate is the best.

This is the thing that has amazed me in the past few weeks. Of the estimated 20 evangelicals that I still have routine contact with (it is hard to define who is an evangelical and who is not) I would say that 18 are staunch Trump supporters.  I stand as a psychologist (although I’m not a real psychologist, per se) trying to figure out what the hell that is all about?

We are all narcissists. It is our birthright as humans. We want what we want when we want it. We are above the rules (in our own minds) and the purpose of others is to serve my needs. Now, this natural narcissism is on a continuum.  There are people with narcissistic personality disorders, selfish people and then people on the other end that, appear at least, to be very empathetic towards others. But even the people on the good end still serve themselves first.

When we become Christians, that narcissism has to be totally covered under spiritual shrouds to make it palatable. A wise friend told me a long time ago that the spiritual process of “determining God’s will” is simply an exercise to find a way to cover what you really want to do with what looks like God’s leading. So if you really want to marry a certain girl, you will find a way to make it “God’s will.”

As I listen to Donald Trump, I really think he is striking a harmony, not with our inward fears and patriotism, but a very primal—reptilian brain—narcissism. Listen to the message, as I will translate:

  • We need to be the number one country in the world.
  • We need to think of our (white) selves as the number one race (read between his lines).
  • We need to think of other races as inferior.
  • We need more money.
  • We need less responsibilities I the world (refugees, etc.).
  • We (men) need to feel good about seeing women as sex objects and nothing else.
  • I can pollute all I want for my needs and screw the planet.

As I scratch my head trying to figure out what my Christian friends see in him, I think it is the self-interests that he promotes.

What would Jesus be saying if he ran for president?  The true historical Jesus, not the American-Evangelical Jesus. You know, the one who walked in Galilee?

I think his platform would be:

  • Give up your money for the poor.
  • Welcome the refugees.
  • Your country is not as important as the people whom God has created.
  • Don’t kill people . . . any of them.
  • Love people . . . all of them.
  • Bring peace to the world, even if that peace hurts you.

I think a candidate like that would be considered weak, disgusting and a filthy communist.

I rest my case. I would say something about the rigged Democratic party, but I’m too tired.

Mike Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

God of Reality and the Artistry of Pretense

In my old blog space, I use to write a lot about the dichotomy between reality and the world of pretense. It is still one of my top issues, through which I see and measure the world. Like Salinger’s Caulfield, the majority world looks phony to me. People project what they want you to think about them, rather than who they really are. I’ve said before that some of the areas that are most prone to pretentiousness are advertising, politics, religion and dating. In those worlds, faking who you are and what you are is the norm.

We are in the season of politics and the branding (borrowing from the last post), positioning, projections of a false reality (on both sides) is epidemic. Reality fades further into the distance. Each—political—side has one ambition and one ambition alone, to assume power, simply for the pleasure of power. Sometimes I think Friedrich Nietzsche and the linguistic deconstructionist were at least partially right.

However, if God is there, and I think he is, then he dwells within reality and is the author of it. The more skewed reality becomes to us, the further away from God we are. To quote from my own book I see discipleship this way:

True discipleship is not memorizing the established answers and then being smacked on the back of the head every time we deviate from the rote. It is a lifetime of journeying, circling closer and closer to reality, the place where God dwells. Jesus’ twelve friends all knew reality much better at the end of their little adventure than when he first commandeered them out of the Galilean normalcy.

For this reason, I think that most TV evangelists are more dangerous to true Christianity, than is Isis. The more we live in the world of pretending, the more removed we are from the Gospel.

As I watch the Republican Convention, and I’m sure I will feel the same when I watch the Democratic one, I feel sick. When I hear a few people within the Black Lives Matter movement proclaim that all policemen are bad and are racist, I feel sad. When I hear (mostly white Evangelicals) saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is all fake that there is NO racism, I feel even sadder. Each is taking a giant step away from reality.

I am a hopeful person, despite being a critic. I think I am hopeful because I see how shallow human mischief really is, and therefore how easy a remedy a true Gospel can bring. I do believe that God wins in the end and all will be fixed. I do draw some consolation when I read others who have seen the world this way and—at least some of us—desire to live closer to reality despite that resistance we feel in doing so.

I will close with one of many possible quotes that I could use from The Catcher in the Rye:

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The Christian in the Age of the Branding Lens

It is hard to separate the notion of branding from the normal influences of simple culture, but yet, I think they are very different.

The principles of culture formation are as old as living animals have been on this earth. For humans, the first time they had a clan or family there was culture formation. One family simply thinks and feels differently from another family or clan. I can see it now as I—a Tennessee boy—married a girl from the Midwest. We have some issues that we approach so differently, it is hard to understand how the other side even thinks. Then of course there are the larger human organizations that take it to new levels of culture such as villages, cities, states, and civilizations.

But branding is a newer concept and goes far beyond the typical cultural constructs. It was probably invented on Madison Avenue in the 1950s. It takes abstract thinking to define branding and how it is different than culture itself. Here are some of the things I have come up with to define branding;

  1. It is a deliberate organization of things under a chosen label,
  2. It is more well-defined than other general cultural concepts, with very defined boarders and is intended to evoke a certain image,
  3. Branding is less tolerating to deviation from the main belief than regular culture,
  4. Branding can change at a moment’s notice, but only from the top down.
  5. However, the perception of the branding can change from the outside, bottom and up.
  6. The difference between #4 and # 5 is that “Coke” will not change their belief system unless it is verbalized from the top with great purpose. However, the perception of “Coke” by the masses can change if—say—a photo is released on Facebook of a dead rat in a vat of Coke syrup at the factory.

Now, I will try to get more specific about how branding applies to Christianity.

Last time I wrote about church denominationalism. I love diversity within Church cultures. But, I am not a fan of it when it goes to seed as absolutism. I constantly hear from supporters of different cultural interpretations of the Church that they have found the only true Church and if you are not part of it, you are inferior. I am a candid person and when I talk about struggles (such as my struggle here with branding) someone always steps up to tell me that they have found the only true Church, which has all the answers. They are, of course, wrong.

We must have the freedom to celebrate church life in a variety of ways and respect people who differ. I have greatly enjoyed services in the Orthodox, Lutheran, Coptic, Catholic and many smaller denominations. This is not relativism because it does not touch the essentials. We must also acknowledge that no one gets it 100% right. We must humbly accept our church’s failures as we see the failures in other churches.

Branding is a lens by which we see the world. It should not be that way. The lens through which we see the world should be 1) our senses, which God has given, 2) our reason, which God has also given and 3) Scripture.  However, we have to be very careful with the last one. Most of the time we see Scripture through the lens of our brand and it should be the other-way around. Two people, from very different perspectives, will read scripture the way they want to read it. Scripture is not relative, but it is not always clear. We pray for God’s guidance, but we can’t full trust ourselves to get it right every time.

I will not hesitate to say that I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump. He sufferers from narcissism and I mean that literally. If it makes anyone feel any better, I’m not a fan of the Hillary pretentiousness either. She is a chameleon for votes. But this is what I find amazing. I heard a poll yesterday that the Evangelical brand supports Trump at almost 90%. Late yesterday I heard a report that black churches in some areas support Hillary at almost 100%. It is as if the brand dictates your thinking before you have the chance to think. The “Conservative” brand is a lens through which Donald Trump looks like a savior. The “Black church” culture may be doing the same with Hillary.

Then, with the terrible shootings this week all my friends lined up exactly according to their brands. The conservative branded friends (Fox-News-Evangelical friends) starting posting what I expected them to say. I know that brand well and was not disappointed by my—low—expectations of them. I heard their chatter that “Black Lives Matter” does mean what the proponents say it means. It means “Blacks deserve more rights than whites.” I saw video tapes of preachers, Fox News hosts and others pointing out that it is the failure of black society that is the problem. That the two black men shot were bad people. The scariest posts were a couple of black evangelicals supporting that same brand view. In their cases their evangelical brand was the lens they defaulted to rather than their black community lens.

Then, on the other side I heard what I expected.

So, here is the point I am trying to make. If events are controversial, without clear interpretations, you think that you would see a wide “bell-shaped” curve of views, based on people’s perceptions of those events. Those at the highest point of the bell curve would be those most right.

However, what we see are rows of rectangle columns.  Each column is a topped by a bright neon sign touting the brand and everyone who subscribes to that column falls in line with the brand view. There is no personal thinking but that has been relegated to the brand leaders.

This is what is wrong with American politics at this time in history. The brand dictates the thinking and it is brand alone.

It is time that we forsake the brands and humbly ask God to forgive us and give us the insight to see things as they really are, not how our brand dictates how we should think.

Denominationalism

There is one thing that I have had a hard time understanding this side of evangelicalism, and that is denominational favoritism. Now, if was simply the idea that someone really likes a particular brand of church, that would be fine. However, the prevailing attitude that I sense is that brand x church is the ONLY church who has their act together. They are the ONLY church who has their doctrines correct. If you are not part of their brand, you are inferior.

They approach it as God playing the shell game. He has several hundred walnut shells on the table but under one–and only one–is the correct church. Our mission is to seek out and find that one faithful church in the midst of imposters.

Some have gone so far, if you read between the lines of what they are saying, that you cannot be a Christian if you are not part of their denomination.

Right now I have good friends who believe that; the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Catholic Chruch, Wisconsin Synd Lutheran Church, Eastern Orthodox, Mennonite Church or the Southern Baptist Church is the ONLY correct church.

I think about this and, as I always do, try to figure out what is the psychological force behind this thinking. I think it is a lack of understanding of the brokenness of humanity and seeking a higher feeling of self-worth, knowing that you are one of the few who are smart enough or moral enough to have discovered the one true church. Broken humans cannot produce perfect church organizations. This is not to be a bummer, as is all is hopeless. It is liberating. We don’t have to look to a particular church as our one savior. We can enjoy a variety of traditions without guilt, keeping one eye open for mischief within that brand.

I’m also not saying that theological truth is relative. It is not. But each person in these particular groups above thinks that they have a corner on theological certainty. This is not possible. We should seek theological purity, but we never arrive.

So what is the problem with this ecclesiological branding? The problem is, I have noticed with these friends:

  1. When they live in places where their church brand doesn’t exist, they half-heartedly join other “inferior” brands and stand as a perpetual critic from the inside.
  2. They don’t support important ecumenical projects in the community so they can avoid mixing with those outside the “right church.”
  3. They, while not admitting it, look down their noses at people outside of their brand. They may not notice it, but those on the other end of that long nose get it.

I am often accused of being anti-denominational (or like I said above, seeing theology as relative). I am not. I favor the true, simple gospel and I adore all life that God has created.

Related to this, I will close with a quote from my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar, about this issue:

Even champion thoroughbreds require constant shoveling or their stalls will fill with shit. We are ALL wrong on some points but that should not stop us from meeting. However, this plasticity should never be an excuse for trivializing important theological doctrines or attempting to revise the corrupt history of our particular church movement to make us feel better. We often worry that we—or worse, our friends—might be wrong on some important theological point. However, what really should keep us awake at night, is the fear of becoming certain about a view that is absolutely wrong. As long as we know there is a chance we might be in fault . . . we are safe.

Mike

Another Hard Week in America . . . and the World

There is really nothing left to say. There have been many great blogs, articles and etc. written this week about the horrible shootings and I can’t add to that. Of course, and sadly, there as been some really ugly things and some really out-of-touch statements.

I am left thinking, what do I do?  How do I repent? I think of my heritage, growing up in the south. I was raised racist. I’m sorry about that. I am shocked that even now  when I spend time with my old (strong Christian) friends, who still live in the south, they say some horribly racist things and don’t even realize it.

But I know that I am not clean yet. I want to find out where I am still racist and purge that part of me. That’s all that I left to say. Forgive me and help me to see how I can make this better. How can I help the hurt of the black community and the police?

Mike

Why I support Isis

Now that I have entered my name on every watch group in the world (by that title to this post) I will quickly give the disclaimer that, of course, I don’t support Isis. Someone recently asked me what would be the group’s proper name in Arabic. My Arabic is rusty these days, so I had to search and work to find the vilest name that I could come up with, in Arabic. It was simply, people whose brains are made of dog shit.

So, I really don’t need to say much to point out how evil and disgusting Isis really is. To be part of that group, you would have to be classified as a sociopath to start with, but that is just the mental health description. The moral explanation is beyond any words that I can conjure up while sitting in this humble coffee shop in the afternoon.

However, I do support Muslim people with my whole heart. Why? Because they are humans, created in God’s image. Because they are created in God’s image, they are deserving of love and respect and that settles it. I feel the same way towards Jews, homosexuals, transgenders, Hindus and any other group that just happens to be human before they became under that secondary label.

I am deeply concerned these days, not about the terrorists coming for us (which has been the same saber rattling within Christendom since Mohammed took Mecca in 630 AD), but about the attitude I am seeing among my Christian friends. Virtually all my evangelical friends are on the same page. I am the misfit or outcast. Their mantra is, “Islam is evil, it is against God . . .  they are all evil and murderous. We must kill them all because we are the shining lights of morality for the world.”

 

For years, I pondered how on earth could have decent German people allow their country to become so morally corrupt that they could allow Nazism. How could they look the other way when the outcast; Jews, disabled, homosexuals and the like be executed because of their label? I have even met some of these people (I know one now) who lived in Nazi Germany and probably supported their government, at least at the beginning.

I think I now know. It is insidious. It creeps out through the cracks of frustration (over terrorism in the present case) and congeals on this side as camouflaged hate. It is camouflaged by the patriots as standing up for freedom and the American Way (which I think Superman coined). It is veiled by Christians as being on God’s side. But hate is hate. Hate is the fuel of Isis and if we become like them, we are no better than they are.

I think what shocks me the most is that this attitude is one of solidarity among my Christian friends. I am grateful that I go to a church where the dominant attitude is not this way.

How do I explain Isis? Is it a Muslim feature?  I would need a book to explain that clearly but I will just summarize here in closing. If you take a country, say “Zenderland” and subject it to domination by other, far away countries and subject it to injustices (like all countries experience at one time in history or another) you will create a general ill-feeling among the Zenderlanders. As that discontent and anger grows, there will the minority spin-off nut-job groups who allow their anger to go to seed as raw hate. This is human nature. If they want, they can look into their personal philosophies to find the supporting foundation for that anger, to make it metaphysically bigger than themselves. Study the Christian Thirty-Years-War and you will see how we did the same rationalizations, using Christian theology. Yes, there are things within Islam that you can use to support a violent Jihad, even though most Islamic scholars would disagree with that attitude.

This is the mess that we are in. When I even suggest that we, good-ole white skinned, Christian Americans have done injustices to other people groups in our past and we have made some huge political mistakes (like invading Iraq), this really pisses people off. How dare I say that we have anything to do with the horrible evils that we wittiness on TV? My Christian friends get the most pissed at me, and that is where I hear the question, “Why do you support Isis? I thought you were a Christian.”

But is it not a foundational Christian principle, which Jesus himself taught, that we should first look at the log in our own eye?  Of course, what Isis does is pure evil, but does this let us off the hook from taking any moral responsibility?

I am confused. I scratch my head and wonder how could we be so blind. The huge problem of the world is not a shortage of hate and we need to generate more hate to fix it.

Mike

Peephole into the Previous Life

I joined Facebook about five years ago to see photos of my grandson, who lives in Minneapolis. Now there are two of them, so I have a greater need to stay on it. I don’t know the genius of FB, but the algorithm is incredible. Out of the dust of long-forgotten memories, came people that I knew. Somehow if I find one friend, then their friends appear and so on.

Over the years, I have had to “un-friend” some of my old evangelical friends when they said things that kept me awake at night. Thinks like, “We should be bombing the Syrian refugees as soon as they get in their boats . . . take them out with a drone . . . we all know they are coming here just to hurt us.”

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I still have a lot of old friends, from that previous life, that I want to keep. I try not to say much, unless they say things that need challenging. For example, the massacre in Orlando required a rebuttal from me.

But looking through the peephole of FB, I see a world that has changed very little from the world I was in, when I was in college. These old friends see me as the liberal compromiser. I have left the world of godliness and entered the “humanistic” world of moral relativity (that is me reading between the lines). This is where they see me as having moral relativism:

  1. I don’t believe, like they do, that all Muslims are disgusting people and because they worship an idol, they all want to come here and kill us and covert us.
  2. If a Christian gives up their right to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, they are the victims of religious persecution. I don’t agree with that either. My question is why would any Christian want that right?
  3. I don’t see Donald Trump as the torchbearer for moral absolutes in a relativistic society.
  4. I don’t see that we are in the last days because America is going to hell in a hand-basket (as exemplified by too many brown people being here, humanist teaching that the world is 13 billion years old, people living together out of wedlock). I think we are living in the best age the world has known. When I was a kid, a lot of “decent” church-folks were sleeping with their friends wives, drinking themselves silly each night and wearing bigotry as god-given right. We all feared being nuked any day.

I want to come back to this thought, and I mentioned it briefly above, but one of the major areas of contention is that virtually all my old evangelical friends have jumped in line behind Donald Trump. In the early days, where there was a Republican choice, not all of them were on board. But when he became the only choice, they felt they had no choice. As one said, “Ben Carson is a godly and brilliant man, if he thinks that Donald Trump is a good man for Christians and American, he must be right.”

I want to come back to this idea soon. Trumpism is a serious symptoms of something dark deep within American Christiandom. I think it is the concept of “branding” that America has bought into, but I have to think about it.

My disclaimer: I only have the chance to write here when I am between patients. I can’t proof-read, so please forgive any typos. If you find typos in my book (which I have carefully proof-read as has professionals) then you can criticize me.

Mike

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